The mysterious phenomenon known as near-death experience, or NDE, has intrigued people for ages, and numerous works of nonfiction have explored the subject in depth. It has also showed up in works of fiction and film. That these experiences occur cannot be doubted. But are they indicators of a life after this life, or are they mere hallucinations or dreams that accompany the dying process and inevitably stop when that process is completed?
Eben Alexander, prior to his own NDE, had tended strongly toward the skeptical view. An experienced neurosurgeon, he believed that human consciousness ends with the death of the brain and body. But that belief underwent a drastic change.
Early one morning in 2008, he felt severe pains in his head and back. He supposed the strange affliction would pass but it only intensified and he began to have seizures. After being rushed to the hospital, a medical team discovered that Eben was suffering from E. coli meningitis. His chance of surviving was very slight and he remained in a coma for seven days. However, he did survive, and felt duty bound afterward to share with the world a message of hope inspired by his own near-death experiences.
Initially, those experiences were unpleasant. He felt reduced to worm-like proportions within a dim, mucky, and claustrophobic environment where his consciousness was drastically restricted. He had no recollection of his past, no sense of who he was or what he was. But at length liberation and tremendous expansion ensued. He was drawn into a vast realm of beauty, accompanied by an angelic being (later identified as the soul of a deceased sister). A wind which he describes as “literally divine” blew through this realm. He asked this manifestation of divinity various questions that were answered instantaneously.
The author stresses the indescribable nature of the entire experience and notes repeatedly its sheer clarity:
‘The place I went was real. Real in a way that makes the life we’re living here and now completely dreamlike by comparison. This doesn’t mean I don’t value the life I’m living now, however. In fact, I value it more than I ever did before.’
Not that my esteem for this book and its author is unqualified. Many of Eben Alexander’s opinions are arguable to say the least. For example, while he encourages prayer and meditation generally, he champions a specific form of meditation known as “Hemi-Sync.” This method involves stereo sound waves that help inactivate ‘the filtering function of the physical brain’—which seems to me like spiritual quackery if it is not dangerous outright (like the deliberate pursuit of “out of body” experiences or playing with Ouija boards). It would have been nice if he specifically recommended traditional forms of prayer like the psalms or the rosary.
So while I recommend Proof of Heaven to readers who are intrigued by this topic, it would be wise to consider a wide range of near-death experiences rather than focus on this one alone.
Top photo by Min An